As I walk to our next class, Jay hobbles next to me, bumping into my side as the student body rushes down hallways to beat the sound of the late bell. With each accidental brush, I’m wondering how my life turned this unpredictable corner today. A day ago, I was top choice for Freshman Choice Award #4: “Most Likely to Eat Anything and Get Straight A’s While Chewing.” Because when you’re Indian, you don’t have a choice about the latter, and you’ve eaten enough strange things by the time you turn five that the first part isn’t too farfetched either.
Now I’m walking next to the second most popular boy in school, only second to the varsity captain of the football team, Mitch Johnson. I mean, come on, with a name like Mitch and a smile that makes him look like Ashton Kutcher’s younger brother, any underclass girl would give her left arm to help him with his homework. The dude is not the brightest apparently, and his football scholarship rides on his grades improving.
Jay on the other hand is smart and beautiful, all in one. He’s athletic and sweet. He’s nearly perfect, a ‘good and suitable boy’ type as my mother would say. Except for one detail. His skin. Not brown. And even though my parents say all the politically correct things when they’re at PC meetings and hosting parties, when the doors of our house close behind the last exited guest, their preference for all things brown returns like a boomerang that barely set sail.
As Jay hobbles past the door into Physics class, the chime of church bells sounds, and I follow, the one technically two seconds late. They office is trying a new thing with the sound system after some study popped up about high school students and anxiety levels related to the shrill of traditional school bells. So now Ms. Pines down in attendance plays those bells that sound like the Hershey’s kisses commercial at Christmas. Even though it’s October, more than two month’s from Jingle Bell season.
“Good morning Ms. Shah.” Dr. Bernstein says, his back to me as he finishes a set of three questions on the white board. “Have a seat. Show time in T minus three minutes.”
Dr. Bernstein is retiring this year. He has no patience for teaching any longer. Every other day, we watch a movie in class. Today’s is on, according to the posted questions, “Bridges.” Yeah.
Lights out and I’m sitting next to Jay in the dark, at a single table made for two. Could this day get any better? I chicken scratch the notes from the board and shut my binder. I’ll answer them at home. Head on my desk over my folded arms, I glance at the clock. Thirty-nine minutes to drift, I’m leaving shore… now.
“Give me some toothpicks.” Jay whispers an interruption before I decide which color I’ll daydream in today. Purple and blue were finalists. “I’ll build Dr. B. a bridge for his retirement party that he can pile all the school’s textbooks on.”
“And why would you want to do that?” I turn my face to look into those baby blues. “I mean, do you really think the dude needs a toothpick bridge to collect dust on his kitchen counter?” Just sayin…
“He’d want my bridge.” Jay nods to himself and flips his paper over and begins sketching a diagram. “See, it’s not your ordinary bridge. It has trap doors, unbreakable beams, and a moving visor that runs along the top and shifts with the sun so no driver ever gets blinded.”
I’m blinded. By your excitement. Your voice. You.
I clear my throat softly and ask, “What’s the point of trap doors if most people drive over bridges to get to the other side?”
“See here,” Jay grabs my hand and covers the spot at the peak of the bridge, where he drew a box, the trap door. “Sometimes you get to the top and you change your mind. You see the other side and it’s not where you thought you were headed. You have the option to drop out.”
He slides my hand down, off the table and for a split second, his fingers entwine atop mine, like he didn’t mean to push me off the bridge and wants to save me. Woah, is all I can think as I take my hand back. My hand on fire.
Red. Maybe today I should daydream in red. The color of flames. “But what if what you see isn’t nearly as amazing as what you’ll experience, if you take a chance and cross to the other side?” I’m trying to figure out if we’re really talking about bridges? Or something else? Something more?
He scoots in, lays his head on top his hands, mirroring me, and blinks a few times before smiling. “Want to cross that bridge with me and find out?”
I swallow. Red it is. Am I delusional or did Jay just ask me to… what? What are you asking me? Boy in my day dreams. And in my dreams at night. Always on my mind. Now in front of me, asking me to cross an invisible bridge with him.
“Want to build a bridge out of toothpicks with me?” Jay asks when I don’t respond to his first question. Did you even ask it or did I just imagine it?
“Sure.” I mean, I’ll do anything if it means time with you. “For this semester’s final project or are you really thinking of making Dr. B. a present?”
“Either. Both. Let’s see what happens.” Jay’s smile puts an exclamation point on his words. I’m in the middle of an exclamation point and I can hardly contain myself.
My pencil finds my left hand, and I’m running my fingers along my waist. I can’t feel this much. I don’t know how to handle feeling this way, not when the suggestion of reciprocated feelings linger between us. Just. Need. To. Feel. Something. Else-Ouch. I turn my head away from Jay so he doesn’t see me wince. My heart pounds and I push into my gut one more time. Must. Not. Drip. This time, is all I can think.
“Meena? Mee-na? Mee—” Jay’s hand on my arm and he’s trying to wake me from a deep sleep. Except I don’t want to wake up. I like this place. Blurry. Bloody. Blue. Cooling down. No longer on fire, I brush his arm off me. “The movie’s over. Wake up.”
“Oh.” I shake myself back to shore. Time to come back. Start building bridges. A bridge between you and me. Me and you.
You know I like pink, gum, pencils, water and you want to build a bridge with me. A bridge to me. A bridge for me to cross over to you. Do you?
Just another day in the life of me. Meena. Me.
Ever build a toothpick bridge in high school physics? Mine came to a crash with the weight of one textbook. And that’s the day I decided I’d steer away from science!
Ever fall asleep in class? What color do you day dream in?